The legislative drive for equal pay protection in Louisiana law died Thursday at the hands of a business-friendly House committee.
The House Labor and Industrial Relations Committee voted 8-5 against sending the Senate-passed measure to the House floor.
Louisiana now ranks 49th in the U.S. when it comes to employees receiving the same pay for the same work regardless of sex.
Proponents said statistics show women in Louisiana make 66 cents compared to a dollar that men make.
A Louisiana Equal Pay for Women Act was adopted in 2013. But its reach was limited to state government employees.
Senate Bill 219 would have expanded equal pay protection to local government as well as private businesses with 50 or more employees.
The Louisiana Senate approved the equal pay measure sponsored by Sen. Ed Murray on a 21-6 vote earlier in the session.
Republicans joined with Democrats to provide the Senate victory. But in the House committee, the vote came along party lines, with Republicans aligning with the state’s chief business lobby in defeating the bill.
The committee killed an equal pay for women measure earlier in the legislative session, so Thursday’s vote did not come as a surprise.
The Louisiana Association of Business and Industry and other opponents argued that laws already on the books at the state and federal level address the equal pay issue.
“There are multiple remedies,” said Rep. Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond. But people aren’t filing complaints seeking redress today.
“If people aren’t filing complaints, how does this solve the problem?” he asked.
Murray said the state law only applies to state government employees.
“What is lacking is the proper enforcement mechanism this bill puts in place,” said Murray, D-New Orleans. The aggrieved party would get access to records to press her case of wage disparity.
“There’s nothing on the books that addresses the 66-cent pay gap between men and women,” said Rep. Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
The legislation spells out procedures for filing a complaint with the Louisiana Human Rights Commission. Upon a commission finding, the employee or employer can file a lawsuit in state district court to challenge any determination. If the court finds a violation, the employee would be able to recover lost wages as well as damages up to the amount of the lost wages.
Louisiana is the worst state for women and children in the United States, said Kim Sport, chairwoman of the public policy committee of the United Way of Southeast Louisiana.
“Pay equity will put dollars in the pockets of women and achieve quality of life not available to them,” Sport said, adding that equal pay will “take the pressure off of government” to provide services for those who can’t afford it on their own.
“One way or another, you (taxpayers) are going to be paying for this wage disparity,” she said.